The lionfish is a venomous beauty and is a native to the tropical Indo-Pacific seas. The fish is found in the water of Belize with a confirm sighting on December 11th, 2008. How this fish gets to be here in Belize is a rather long story. But to make it short, it was first noted in the water off Florida in 1993, presumably released from someone’s aquarium. The fish has henceforth been multiplying and spreading northward along the Atlantic coast of the continental US up to Canada. It has also spread along the Caribbean on the eastward land mass. One can view the website below for the spreading of this invasive specie in the Atlantic waters. Studies have been estimating that the lionfish may be in the western Caribbean region by the middle of this year. However, the fish has arrived before projected time or may have been here even earlier as there is a photo taken from Belize presumably dated in 1996!

The lionfish is a carnivore and can devour marine animals that are as big as three-quarter of its own size. They eat by a suction force like a vacuum cleaner. A study has found that the lionfish appetite is so huge that one fish can reduce young juvenile fish population by 79% in five weeks. Imagine what this fish can do to our fish population! Not only can they decimate our fish stock and impact the coral reef ecosystem as a whole. According to scientists from Oregon State University, they can cost the loss of herbivorous fish which sets the stage for seaweeds to potentially overwhelm the reefs and disrupt the delicate ecological balance in which they exist. In addition, our tourism industry that many of us are dependent upon, one way or the other can be significantly impacted. As reports are there that dive and snorkel sites in the Bahamas have been closed because of the wiping out of natural attractions by these venomous gluttons.

We can almost say that we have a lucky star in our constellation called the groupers. Yes, our naturally occurring, native groupers are predators to these unwelcome and venomous beauties. Since they are our one source of defence, we should continue protecting the groupers from overfishing. But will there be a point that the fishes after many bioaccumulation become too toxic to eat? This is a question that maybe after some time we might find out. But for now, we would like to warn the public of the presence of the invasion of lionfish in our water. If they are spotted please help us by capturing or killing it and report to the Belize Audubon Society of your finding by either calling 223-5004 or by email [email protected]

There are many ways that one can help in the eradication process. One can capture the fish by spearing or netting and then report the incident, or simply report the sighting with time and GPS information of the location of finding. Most importantly is that caution must be taken when handling the fish, as the dorsal and pectoral spines are venomous. The sting deliver pain that is extremely painful, and may cause nausea, breathing difficulties, or in extreme cases to people with heart condition – death. At this point, anti-venom has not been developed for the toxin, but the sting is said to last 15-20 minutes. However, the fish is a fish, and is a food source in other parts of the world and is said to “taste like chickens”.

Please join in helping us in the eradication program and if spotted inform us of your finding.

Website to view its exponential distribution over the years.